At a certain level, all of us are solipsistic, in that we inevitably exist at the enter of our own universe. As it is with individuals, so it is with belief systems. Whether we like it or not, we assume that our way is the way to do things. That others would do things a different way is invariably a surprise (although, as is the case with Dutch chocolate, often a pleasant surprise).
One of the things that distinguishes the mature mind from the immature mind is the ability to recognize that your way isn’t always the right way. Sometimes the other person’s (or nation’s) way is fine, even if it seems inadequate.
(As a side note, I’m not discussing moral absolutes here. I think we’re entitled to be solipsistic about certain moral absolutes, such as “cold-blooded murder is wrong,” cold-blooded stealing is wrong,” “child-beating is wrong.” Even there, though, we do make distinctions. Cold-blooded murder is wrong, but we are open to extenuating circumstances. Cold-blooded stealing is wrong, but it’s probably okay if you’re starving and steal food. Child-beating is always wrong, of course, except that some describe “beating” as a slap on the butt with a hand, while others describe it as using a child’s head as a battering ram against a wall. All decent people oppose the second; many decent people, myself included, do not consider that the first constitutes a “beating.”)
Outside of moral absolutes (or moral somewhat absolutes), what remains are behaviors and beliefs. It’s here that we all fall prey to believing our way is best. Where conservatives and Progressives differ, though, is that, while conservatives believe their choices are best, they do not believe that it is up to government to impose those choices on others. They prefer persuasion to coercion. Progressives, however, are sufficiently self-righteous (or emotionally immature) that they believe that they must impose their ways upon others.
What got me thinking about this was a discussion I had with my sister about a couple of homeless men she and her husband have befriended (don’t ask). Both men are enthusiastically homeless. They get government checks, but are incapable of — and, more importantly, hostile to — embracing a middle class lifestyle.
The two men live near a city in a somewhat rural area. They can bike to amenities, but live in a homeless encampment in the woods (which means they offer minimal inconvenience to the bulk of the city’s residents). One of them built a teeny, portable wooden structure in which he lives, and powers the TV, the lights, the radio, and the electric cook stove with solar panels. The other dwells in a tent and mooches happily off friends. They get water from a nearby water pipe that the city makes available to the encampment. They get free food from various charities, and spend their government checks on food and drugs.
From my middle class, suburban perch, they live a terrible life. From their point of view, though, they’re free men who have all their needs met: shelter, food, chemical stimulants. They don’t want anything more. Both are a little loopy (one has a mildly aggressive paranoia, while the other believes he communes with alien beings), but neither is rendered dysfunctional by those “quirks.” They are free to be themselves. They don’t miss hot showers, and La-Z-Boys, and cars, and the internet, and X-Boxes, and all of the other things with which we fill our lives. Nor do they miss health insurance, which means that they’re in sync with previously uninsured Oregonians who got Medicaid. When they’re sick, that’s what the ER is for. They like that status quo and, despite living in a state that’s embraced government medicine, they refuse to join up.
I thought of these two men when James Taranto pointed out a Fox-Butterfield moment in the San Francisco Comical:
Fox Butterfield, Is That You?
“San Francisco spends $165 million a year on services for homeless people, but all that money hasn’t made a dent in the homeless population in at least nine years.”–Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, March 12
San Francisco has long spent exorbitant sums on the homeless because the Progressive government believes that it can bribe, cajole or co-opt the homeless into adopting a middle class lifestyle. The experience of 30 years of failure has only convinced the Progressives that they need to spend more. They cannot comprehend that, while there are people amongst the homeless population who are genuinely down on their luck and need a hand, there are many amongst the homeless who affirmatively embrace that lifestyle. They are homeless, not because we (society) have failed them, but because they like the freedom that comes with homelessness. They have no amenities, but they have no obligations either.
Progressives aren’t insane, notwithstanding the oft-repeated definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Solipsism isn’t insanity. It is, instead, a failure of imagination and an emotional immaturity that makes it impossible for a person or belief system to accept other attitudes and desires.